The English Cemetery in Florence

The English Cemetery at Florence
Cimitero Inglese - Firenze
Piazzale Donatello

Nothing is more romantic than this. Perched on a traffic island in the middle of a large roundabout at the edge of old Florence sits a Romantic-era masterpiece of English Italian synthesis. It's easy to picture Oscar Wilde sauntering about the place during his visit to Florence.

The artificial mound was begun in 1827 at Piazzale Donatello during the height of the Romantic era. Its beauty is tangible and enduring. Although it sits in the middle of busy circling traffic, it is easy to lose oneself in the perfect combination of English solidity and Italian ornamentation as is present in the wonderful assortment of gorgeous tombstones.

There are scattered about the place a number of graves of Italian, German, and French residents of Florence; but the majority are of British and American expatriates. Notable graves include a King of Prussia - Frederic Guillaume, Robert Hart - an American sculptor who died in Florence during the American Civil War, and many more celebrated people including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was also a guest at Torrigiani Gardens (see the powerful post on that here), and whose tombstone was designed by Frederic Lord Leighton!

Even more surprising and impressive for me are the cemetery's Pre-Rafaelite connections. William Holman Hunt's wife Fanny Waugh, who died in Italy while in childbirth, is honored with a tomb sculpted by Holman Hunt himself. Another Pre-Rafaelite - John Roddam Spencer Stanhope - also sculpted a tombstone for his daughter Mary.

There is something inexplicably satisfying about this place. I had actually visited it back in 1996 during my first visit to Florence, but had forgotten where it was - only vague memories of a beautiful romantic English cemetery remained with me.